Edwin Samuel "Jim" Melvin was born on December 24, 1933, in Greensboro, North Carolina, and grew up in the Warnersville community. In 1952, he graduated from Greensboro Senior High School (now called Grimsley High School) and then attended The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from which he graduated with a degree in business in 1959. He took his first job in banking at what was then called North Carolina National Bank in Greensboro. During this time, he met and married Susan Thomas Melvin.
Melvin entered the political arena in 1968, when he served as campaign manager for the congressional race of L. Richardson Preyer. In 1969, he ran unsuccessfully for city council, but in 1971 he was appointed mayor of Greensboro by the city council. He was re-elected in 1973 and 1975. He ended his ten-year tenure as mayor in 1981 to focus on his banking career and philanthropic interests. In 1996, Melvin retired after serving for 37 years as a banker at Central Carolina Bank, and he accepted the position of CEO and president of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, a philanthropic organization in Greensboro.
Melvin has remained involved with many civic activities and organizations, among them the Greensboro Jaycees, which he served as president in 1965 when the club was rated as the "Best Jaycee Chapter in World." He has also pursued business development opportunities, among them Action Greensboro in 2001 and First Horizon Park in 2004.